2 Corinthians 9:8-11 One of the biggest challenges pastors have when it comes to changing a congregational culture of stewardship here in the United States is the fact that many of their members’ finances are just like those of the unbelievers in the world around them. Here are some numbers that reflect that reality.
USA Today reports that 70% of households in the United States have less than 1000 dollars in savings. 63% of Americans do not have enough money to cover a 500 dollar emergency. 33% of Americans do not have a dime saved for retirement. 50% of Americans are spending more each month than they make.
I would hope that the members of our congregation are not reflective of those numbers but I have a feeling that we are a pretty good sample of what is going on in our culture financially.
I do not have to tell you that those Americans who don’t have an extra 500 or 1000 dollars are afraid for their financial future and are hesitant to turn loose of even a dollar because they don’t know what tomorrow will bring—and that includes the dollar they would give as an offering. I get it.
But what we need to believe is the Good News we hear today in Holy Scripture, that God is able to meet our needs and because he is able to meet our needs, we can be generous in every way. The Bible says that:
God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times…
When we don’t have 500 dollars for a rainy day and when we have already spent more this month than what we have earned, it is very difficult to see ourselves as people who have “enough.” What we see instead, is everything that we lack. I understand.
But let me give you anther picture of where you stand right now in terms of material blessings. In his explanation to the First Article of the Creed, Luther says that:
God has given me my body and soul, eyes, ear, and all my members, my reason and all my senses...he also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He RICHLY and DAILY provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.
Who among us cannot say the same? That we are sitting here today, fed and clothed and sheltered, able to see our brothers and sisters and able hear the pastor, surrounded by people in the church and our family who love us, is a testimony to God’s abundant provisions.
Several weeks ago we heard Paul tell Timothy that if we have food and clothing we ought to be content and who among us does not have much, much more than that?
Much too often we look only what we lack and that blinds us to the bounty that God has blessed us with! God has made his gracious gifts abound in our lives and we really do have all sufficiency in all things just as he has promised and he has given us these gifts for this reason: that we may abound in all good works.
There is not one person here today, blessed by a gracious God as we are, who cannot serve their neighbor and do good to those around them and give generously to the work of the church. We have been blessed by God for that very purpose just as he has always blessed his people. The Bible says:
As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
Besides the testimony of our own lives as to the fact that we have in the Lord a heavenly Father who loves to give good gifts to his children, we ought to believe the testimony of Holy Scripture to that same glorious truth.
Adam and Eve had the bounty of Eden. The Israelites had Manna and quail and water and survived for decades in the wilderness. Ruth found help in Boaz’s field. Jesus fed the multitudes and promised that as his heavenly Father fed the birds of the air and clothed the flowers of the field so he would provide for his people.
Everything that the Lord has provided to sustain our lives-- and everything he has done for all people and all creatures since the beginning of time-- is a sufficient testimony as to his righteousness, that he has called this world into existence and created all things including us, not to abandon us in our need, but to graciously and generously meet our needs. The Bible says:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
Last week we talked about the context of these words, that there was a severe famine cross Judea and especially in Jerusalem. Obviously the people in these areas were affected-- but so were the Christians who were coming to their aid.
When we hear about the hard times that others are having we say to ourselves, “I’ve got the get my house in order”. “I need to make sure I’ve got my ducks in a row”. “I’ve to get my budget back on track”. And we are right back to the same old attitude that says, “I don’t have enough to take care of myself much less help somebody else out!”
In the midst of that fear God says: “You CAN help out your neighbor and you CAN give generously to the church because I am going to take care of you. And I am going to do that so that YOUR righteousness would increase”.
Did you notice how in the previous verse God talks about HIS righteousness that provides for the needs of his creatures and now in this verse he is talking about OUR righteousness that provides for the needs of those around us? There is a reason for that!
We are right in God’s sight through faith in Jesus Christ. By faith we possess the righteousness of Christ. But God intends that Christ’s righteousness would be lived out in the way that we treat those around us. It’s like when Joseph was convinced that Mary had sinned against him and the Bible says that because he was a righteous man he decided to put her away quietly to save her reputation.
Those who are righteous through faith in Jesus, those who possess the righteousness of God by faith, always live out that righteousness in their own lives.
God wants to see that harvest of righteousness in our lives. That is why he was leading the Christians around the world to give generously for famine relief. As they gave, they had a God-given opportunity to show the world who they were and whose they were-- and God gathered a harvest of righteousness in their lives from the seed of the Word he had planted in their heart.
So it still is today. We are right in God’s sight through faith in Christ Jesus. The seed of the Gospel has been planted in our hearts and we are born from above. And God wants to gather a harvest of righteousness from us and so he gives us opportunities to show our love for him and our love for others by the offerings we give, generous in every way. The Bible says:
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
This week in chapel I asked the children what it means to be rich and they answered that it means to have lots of money—and certainly that’s the way the world sees it and it’s true enough. But there is more.
To be rich means to have more than others and by any measure the people in this sanctuary are far, far richer than billions of other people on this planet at this moment. The lives that the poorest among us lead are immeasurably richer than the vast majority of the world’s people.
But there is even more because the Lord has enriched us in EVERY way. He has sent his Son to die on the cross for us, taking away our sins. Has given us his own holiness as gift and in his resurrection he has given us eternal life and promised us mansion in heaven and by his Spirit he has given us faith that we can believe it. Every one of us are rich beyond measure through faith in Jesus.
And then I asked the kids, why has God done this? Why has he blessed our earthly life with so many gifts? Why has he given his Son Jesus Christ to live and die for us? Why has he caused us to be born into believing families and brought us to Holy Baptism and taught us his Word?
Has he done all this for us and graciously given us his gifts so that we can turn our backs on the needs of others and the needs of the church?
Of course not! He has enriched us in every way so that we can be generous to others. God intends that his mercy and compassion and generosity and concern for the lost would show up in our lives as the same—that we would be merciful and compassionate and generous—that we would be willing and glad to take those gifts he has entrusted to us and share them with others, believing that we will not be impoverished in our giving, but blessed.
As we do this, as we live these kinds of lives, not only is our neighbor served and the mission of the church supported, but God himself is glorified by the by the praise and thanksgiving he receives for what his people do for others.
What a blessing it is to know that God is able to meet our needs and because he is able to meet our needs, we can be generous in every way, serving our neighbor and glorifying him! Amen.